June 26, 2022
Sister Clare Carr, OSB shares a reflection on the scripture readings: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62
The following reflection is taken from three sources: Compassion by Henri Nouwen, St Louis Sunday readings by Gerald Deering and Homilies for Sunday by Fr. Earl Meyer.
The readings this Sunday have to do with commitment and freedom. As a religious woman called to be a Benedictine sister, I know the challenge and cost of commitment. And I also know the freedom that comes with saying yes to a commitment.
Over 48 years ago I responded to the invitation to follow Jesus in this way of life. I didn’t go mildly, but with a struggle. However, as Nouwen says, “we have a God who is like a bulldog, who is more stubborn and stiff-necked than his stiff-necked and stubborn people, who holds on to us giving us life, life in abundance.” I didn’t want this way of life, but as I lived into it, I discovered that this was the place I was to find God, that I would know God, that I would flourish into freedom.
The first reading this Sunday from Kings really struck me. Elisha’s call. It appears that at Elijah’s invitation to follow as prophet, Elisha begs off. “Please let me kiss my mother and father goodbye, and I will follow you.” It sounds like Elijah rebuked him, by saying, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?” But what Elisha does following this rebuke is decisive. He kills the twelve oxen that belonged to his family, burns the yokes of the oxen feeding his people, and then follows Elijah. He closes a door to his life of the past. He certainly did, for after killing the oxen and burning the oxen’s yokes, he could not return to them. He was committed.
Jesus speaks of commitment, an unconditional commitment. “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
In our age many have difficulty making commitments, and even greater difficulty keeping them.
We marvel at someone who celebrates a golden anniversary, or stays married through a lengthy illness, or yes, lives 70 years as a religious. For many of us, we equate freedom with relief from responsibility. However, Paul in the second reading speaks of freedom from responsibility as slavery. “Christ has set us free, stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” It is in making commitments that we express our freedom.
Meyer says: “In making a commitment you do not lose your freedom; you use your freedom. You do not give up the carefree life, you take up the cares of your life. Rather than letting chance decide your future, you set your course in life. It is the difference between being adrift at sea and steering your own ship.”
Of course, there are situations that one should not continue, situations that are destructive of one’s life: violence, abuse, or situations that are a commitment to a higher value where changed is needed. For instance, standing in the breach between a commitment to an organization and knowing that there are behaviors and decisions that oppose the dignity of a people or a place, perhaps forcing you to leave that commitment.
Today there seems to be a wholesale systematic disregard of commitment that is unraveling society.
The practical reason for keeping commitments is the stability of a given culture and civilizations.
Meyer says, “When one strand is broken the whole fabric begins to unravel.” The vitriolic division we are experiencing in our world seems to point to this unraveling. We have lost a sense of respect and a genuine love for each other.
God is faithful to us; if it were not, we could not know trust, hope or peace. We are faithful because God is faithful to us. Think of the many times that God has been faithful, pulling you into an abundance of life not death.
Father Earl Meyer writes, “The only lasting heritage we humans leave to this world is not our property or our progeny, but our promises. When one walks through a cemetery, the only meaning to the names on the tombstones is the commitments of their lives. Our promises are the only part of ourselves that ultimately endure, because they define who we are.”
Commitments cost!!! They cost our egos, they demand choice, and eliminate other possibilities. At times they do mean the cross. The laying down of our lives for others, the laying down of our wants, the laying down agendas, our time. The giving our resources for the disenfranchised, the poor, the alienated. Today that can be any group that doesn’t fit our economic status, our color, or our gender preference.
It could mean opening our hearts to those who inconvenience us, who need a listening ear, or who long to just be seen. It could mean opening our hearts to those who are of a different tongue, culture, dress, and philosophy/religion. Jesus invites us to follow. He promises that there may be times when we have no place to lay our heads or no place to call home. He does challenge us to let the dead bury the dead. To be about the kingdom. To be about life. To be about fidelity to our calls. Calls that vary.
Jesus says follow me. Who is that Jesus?
Deering wrote: “We can ask if we follow Jesus…do we walk in the way of the cross or do we follow some other way?”
“We can ask how we follow Jesus. Do we follow Jesus through some special call or through the ordinary Christian Vocation and through the acceptance of the challenge of daily living?”
“We can ask which Jesus do we follow? Do we follow a Christ of our own making, one that confirms us in our present lifestyle, or do we follow the Christ of the Gospels.” Do we follow the Jesus of the Gospels who dedicated his life to liberate the poor and oppressed?
Often all God desires is that we show up. I would like to end with a story about Mother Teresa. There was a time when she addressed our Congress, asking for additional funding to relieve the suffering of the world. Senator Hatfield remarked that her program had not been entirely successful because there had been the waste of food in some remote villages. Mother Teresa admitted the problem but insisted that her people should not be abandoned. When Senator Hatfield persisted, Mother Teresa replied, “Senator, I have NOT been called to be successful. I have been called to be faithful.” May we all just show up and be faithful.